Wednesday, June 10, 2020
Weekday Devotion With Pastor Chris
The other day I was talking to my brother about some family members who are considering a move to Maine. That brought to mind E.B. White who left his position at the New Yorker along with his duplex on Manhattan's east side to move to a saltwater farm in North Brooklin, Maine. The year was 1938 and rather thoughtfully, he took his wife and young son with him.
Elwyn Brooks White was born in Mount Vernon, New York, in 1899. He graduated from Cornell in 1921, and bounced around through a number of different jobs (including working on a fire-boat in Alaska) until 1925 when he submitted a number of pieces to a brand new magazine called The New Yorker. The literary editor, who years later would become his wife, recommended he be hired. It took months to convince White to actually visit the office for an interview, and additional weeks to talk him into working on the premises. He agreed to come in on Thursdays. White wasn't exactly a people person. His friend, James Thurber, would later write:
Most of us, out of a politeness made up of faint curiosity and profound resignation, go out to meet the smiling stranger with a gesture of surrender and a fixed grin, but White has always taken to the fire escape. He has avoided the Man in the Reception Room as he has avoided the interviewer, the photographer, the microphone, the rostrum, the literary tea, and the Stork Club. His life is his own. He is the only writer of prominence I know of who could walk through the Algonquin lobby or between the tables at Jack and Charlie's and be recognized only by his friends.
Thurber wasn’t kidding about the fire escape. White used it regularly to get away from visitors he didn’t know. Small wonder, then, that this man would choose to leave the crowded streets of New York City for a saltwater farm along the coast of Maine.
Ask people about E.B. White and they will probably talk about Stuart Little or Charlotte’s Web. Another book, well-known in different circles, is "Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style." But while he is best known today for the books he wrote, in White's own time he was at least equally well-known for his essays. They are still great reading. To give you a sense, here is an excerpt from a piece he wrote on the tendency of some poets to be obscure:
There are many types of poetical obscurity. There is the obscurity that results from the poet’s being mad. This is rare. Madness in poets is as uncommon as madness in dogs. A discouraging number of reputable poets are sane beyond recall. There is also the obscurity that is the result of the poet’s wishing to appear mad, even if only a little mad. This is rather common and rather dreadful. I know of nothing more distasteful than the work of a poet who has taken leave of his reason deliberately, as a commuter might of his wife… I think Americans, perhaps more than other people, are impressed by what they don’t understand, and the poets take advantage of this. Gertrude Stein has had an amazing amount of newspaper space, out of all proportion to the pleasure she has given people by her writings, it seems to me, although I am just guessing.
Who hasn’t been frustrated by a poet who seems intent on being as obscure and opaque as possible in the hope of appearing clever? Their thinking seems to be that if you can’t understand it then it must be really deep. On the other side, we have the greatest of all poets -- our Creator -- whose work is gloriously accessible, and yet is so deep and so profoundly complex that one could spend a lifetime exploring it and still have just scratched the surface.
Pause for a moment and take a look at the world around you. What a world God has made for us. What a God to so richly bless us. On second thought, perhaps it wasn’t the need to get away from the crush of people that took White to the coast of Maine in 1938. Perhaps it was a deep love for creation itself.
“Ever since the creation of the world [God’s] eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made” (Romans 1:20).